Here's why Verizon's 5G UW phones are pricier than the T-Mobile or AT&T models
With its latest Galaxy A71 5G UW
model, Verizon only reconfirmed the trend we've been seeing this year for its new 5G network phones - one and the same make and model is $50-$100 more expensive on Big Red than anywhere else.
The Galaxy A71 5G
UW, for instance, can be ordered for $650 on Verizon
, but it's $600 on T-Mobile, Sprint or AT&T. The OnePlus 8
starts at $700 on T-Mobile, but the OnePlus 8 5G UW
version is $800 on Verizon, barring any promos.
The $999 Samsung Galaxy S20
wasn't available on Verizon at launch, came three months later to its roster, yet still started from a grand. The LG V60
was $800 at T-Mobile
or AT&T at launch, but the LG V60 5G UW was $950 over at Verizon, you catch the drift.
Why are Verizon's 5G UW phones so expensive?
Well, the answer lies precisely in that little "UW" suffix after the model names. It stands for Ultra Wideband and indicates the type of 5G network that Verizon operates. It is built on the high bands called mmWave frequencies, and is the type that delivers those blazing gigabit speeds that early 5G network promos were full with.
T-Mobile or AT&T
's current 5G networks have a while to go to incorporate mmWave coverage, and it shows in the peak speeds of their 5G networks against Verizon's. The 5G mmWave network advantages stop here, though. They require much denser base station buildout within cities, can't travel far, and their signal can easily be blocked by your hand even.
That is why 5G mmWave phones like Verizon's need to have much more antennas stuffed inside for a sufficiently strong signal, and those mmWave modems and filters use more expensive materials, too.
Pricier mmWave modem interference materials
The T-Mobile and AT&T's 5G networks mainly employ low-band and mid-band spectrum, the so-called sub-6 (GHz) frequencies, but Verizon's new high-band spectrum, also known as millimeter wavelength (mmWave) includes 28 and 39 GHz bands.
While that makes the total 5G fan span widest across the radio spectrum than any of the previous generations, including 4G LTE, it also means that new materials are needed for the modems that will cover it. According to Ki-Song Song, a researcher at LG Electronics' Material Technology Center, speaking at the Nano Korea 2020
industrialization session this month:
There are still many improvements [needed] in smartphone materials that support the 28 GHz band among 5G mobile communications. The 28GHz-related materials are still very expensive and are used even though they are simply passing the required specifications.
So, the materials and modem filters that need to survive these high frequency emission without major interference are more expensive. While we'll leave to the engineers to experiment with and decide on future materials for 5G modems, it becomes clear that if you want them to support mmWave 5G networks, it will make those modems more expensive as a phone part.
Greatly increased number of antennas and placement redesigns
A Verizon 5G version needs extra efforts from phone and modem makers to employ and test the respective frequency filters, and to supply a bunch more antennas to place inside the phone. This not only raises the cost of components that go into a Verizon 5G mmWave phone, but requires more testing and certification, increasing the price even further.
For that reason, the unlocked OnePlus
8, for instance, wouldn't support Verizon's 5G connectivity even if you manage to register it on their networks, as the Verizon-exclusive model has mmWave modem built in.
That same extra chip had to be affixed somewhere, and from the FCC schematics it seems that on Verizon's OnePlus 8
5G UW model, that place is right around the volume rocker.
The Verizon OnePlus 8 5G UW has an extra mmWave antenna where the unlocked version's volume rocker is
Notice how the manufacturer had to even redesign the phone a bit to fit all the extra 5G UW antennas around for Verizon's model? Thus, the volume key is shifted slightly down on Verizon's 5G UW version, hence the cheapo cases you ordered from Amazon for your precious, won't fit. The ones you get from T-Mobile won't work either. In the case of the Galaxy S20
5G UW this also meant nixing the microSD card slot
, and so on.
Extra testing and certification requirements
The Federal Communications Commission now has a new a dedicated testing setup for precisely those Ultra Wideband 5G NR frequencies that Verizon and, to a much lesser extent, other carriers, have employed.
The phones equipped with NR-capable modem and antennas have to undergo a litany of additional signal penetration and radio emissions testing on the high bands, which prolongs the certification process on the network, and adds to the cost of the phones in question in time and expert manpower. Just comparing the Galaxy A71
5G UW certification docs at the FCC to the non-mmWave version over at T-Mobile yield three extra "mmWave reports" close to 200 pages each, full of tests like the graph below:
The FCC needs to test the antenna performance and emissions at all the new mmWave frequencies, adding time and expense to the process
Long story short, Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband phone models are more expensive for a plethora of reasons - from requiring extra components and redesigns, through needing more expensive modem materials to filter the mmWave frequencies, to undergoing extra emission and connectivity tests at the FCC.
All that adds to the cost of the unit, and is passed on to the end user, who can in their turn brag with peak 5G speeds unachievable by any other network at the moment.